Let’s just get this out of the way first – Queensland is huge. As Australia’s second largest state it stretches 2609km/1621 miles from its northern extremity of Cape York to its southernmost point where it borders New South Wales. Its stunning coastline covers an area so enormous it is lapped by not just one but a multitude of bodies of water which include the South Pacific Ocean, the Coral Sea and the Torres Strait and its whole total area is only a little short of 2 million km2.
As you can probably imagine a region this vast cradles within its boundaries such a huge diversity of things to see and do it could probably keep you going for years without repeating anything. And it isn’t just its sheer size which gives it endless appeal. While some places in the world have a single jewel in their crown Queensland’s gems are scattered as plentifully as fallen leaves in autumn. Mixed into its tropical and subtropical delights are lush rainforests, endless miles of spectacular beaches, fertile plateaus, soaring mountains and of course the Great Barrier Reef – one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of the state’s five UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.
And there is so much more – Aboriginal rock art sites, migrating whales, the haunting beauty of the Outback, rainforest towns and 1001 adventures to be had from white-water rafting to heading out croc spotting and so the list goes on. We hope you’ve got lots of time.
Immerse Yourself in a Water Wonderland – The Great Barrier Reef
You may have already heard of the Great Barrier Reef’s claims to fame such as it being Earth’s only natural phenomenon viewable from space; of it being the world’s largest reef system; that approximately 10% of the world’s total fish species can be found here and that it is home to more than 30 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise; that it is the planet’s largest living organism…and so the biggest/best of/incredible facts list goes on. However, no matter how much you have heard or how many hours of TV programmes you have watched NOTHING can prepare you for what awaits should you be lucky enough to visit this amazing place in person.
Some snorkel it and some dive it while others opt to keep their feet dry and explore it by boat, fly above it by plane or helicopter, even skydive over it or visit one of the underwater observatories such as Reef HQ in Townsville.
Composed of 2900 reefs and 900 islands the Great Barrier Reef is a supremely magical place both above and below the water. Its surface islands are mostly of the ultimate tropical paradise kind while beneath the water line exists a wonderland of thousands of species of rainbow-coloured fish, coral and sponges woven into a marvellous labyrinthine beauty.
There is something for everyone on every kind of budget from a few hours in a glass-bottom boat to weeks of luxury cruising. Some of the reef’s more unusual experiences include a submarine ride around Fitzroy Island off Port Douglas (and yes it is yellow) and a walk along the seabed amid the coral gardens of Green Island.
Explore the National Park Bonanza
Australia has more than 600 national parks of which in excess of 200 belong to Queensland – more than any other state by some considerable margin This means you can’t possibly cover them all unless you have several years to spare and individual parks tend to be so vast it would take months to thoroughly see all of just one of them. Three of the absolutely-don’t-miss variety are detailed here.
Daintree National Park – A nature lover’s paradise and a World Heritage-listed site, Daintree is the planet’s oldest existing rainforest and an idyllic natural world simply bursting at the seams with plants, mammals, insects, reptiles and birds. Quite how you enjoy this unique place is your call. Hikers can enjoy this area of tropical rainforest, swamp, mangrove and beaches through its elaborate walking trail system while other options include indigenous-guided tours, 4WD safaris, croc-spotting river trips and a zip-line canopy experience.
The Gondwana Rainforest – Located in Queensland’s south-east corner and yet another World Heritage Site, Gondwana happens to be the world’s largest subtropical rainforest and home to the vast majority of the planet’s Antarctic beech rainforest. Like Daintree it has extensive walking trails and a diverse variety of adventure tours and activities.
Fraser Island – Yet another World Heritage Site and part of the Great Sandy National Park, Fraser Island is not simply the world’s largest sand island but also Earth’s only existing example of sand-dune rainforests growing beyond 200 metres. Factor in that the island is also home to more than 50% of the world’s naturally occurring phenomena known as ‘perched lakes’ (which here come in hues of sapphire and emerald and make wonderful wild swimming spots) and you may start to realise what a truly unique destination this is. And there’s more – exceptionally beautiful Fraser Island’s many plus points include several spots where you can camp directly on the beach, it is home to eastern Australia’s purest dingoes, it is a passing point for migrating humpback whales and their babies, it has swimmable rock pools and you can tag along on guided night walks with a ranger to get up close to the native fauna.
If you have a sudden urge to thoroughly explore your adventurous side it won’t be hard in Queensland. Opportunities for doing all kinds of exciting and scary things are almost falling over themselves here and there are endless tour operators ready, willing and very able to give you the experience of a lifetime. What’s on offer ranges from the simply thrilling to the 100% adrenalin-fuelled fit for the kamikaze only and could see you crossing off several bucket-list items.
This is Australia so of course surfing is big which means plenty of chance to take some lessons or even sign up to a couple of weeks at a live-in surf camp. Watery-themed fun is in fact plentiful with such choices as kite-surfing, jet-skiing, diving, snorkelling, kayaking, water skiing, white-water sledging (body boarding on white water river rapids) and lots more. If you prefer to stay on dry land (although not necessarily with your feet on the ground) you can opt for abseiling, skydiving, gliding or the less commonly found kind of things such as an Easy Rider-type Harley Davidson coastal tour.
One adventure activity for which Queensland is well-known is it white-water rafting around the Cairns region. More timid first timers can go for the gentler grade 2-3 Barron River experience while those intent on terror can opt for the churning wild waters of the Tully River with its Grade 3 to 4 rapids, known as one of the country’s best rafting sites. In either case stunning scenery is all part of the whole as the Barron River passes through the awe-inspiring Barron Gorge while the Tully River meanders through the Tully Gorge National Park’s rainforests.
Get Up Close to the Whales or Other Incredible Wildlife
For a huge proportion of Australia’s visitors its unique wildlife is the number one reason for visiting. Living within a diverse range of habitats are some of Earth’s most incredible creatures; much of what you might see in Australia exists nowhere else on Earth – 83% of its mammals, 89% of its reptiles and 93% of its amphibians are endemic to this vast island.
As far as unspoiled natural habitats go you are spoiled for choice and wildlife spotting experiences and opportunities are plentiful whether you choose to go it alone and hoping for random encounters or as part of a specific tour. Kangaroo, emu, koala and duck-billed platypus – such animals are globally iconic symbols of Australia but there is much much more than this. The wildlife experience menu of Queensland includes such things as crocodile spotting boat tours in the far north of the region, snorkelling or diving amid a marine wonderland populated by multi-hued fish, turtles, coral and dolphins on the Great Barrier Reef, picking a spot to watch penguins waddling ashore at dusk, watching vast flocks of giant flying foxes pass overhead or setting off in search of koalas.
Of course each of us is different in that which we might consider to be the ultimate wildlife experience but time and again Queensland visitors list their whale encounters as just that. From July to November the Queensland coast becomes part of a humpback whale migrating route and it is far from uncommon to be able to watch acrobatic displays from vantage points on land or at least spot water-spouts thrown several metres into the air. If you want an all but guaranteed sighting head out on a boat – Hervey Bay serves as one of the region’s principal departure points for whale-watching boats.
Dip into an Aboriginal Cultural Experience or Two
If you’re dying to take a peek into the 40,000 year old fascinating, ancient and colourful aboriginal culture of Australia you won’t have to try too hard to find such experiences in Queensland, particularly in the Far North. There are all kinds of things on offer of which the following are just a slice.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park – If you are looking for full immersion with minimal effort the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Cairns is a great choice. The menu includes options for day and night tours ranging which include traditional music, dance and story-telling or you can get more involved by having a blow on a didgeridoo, throwing a boomerang or learning the tricks of face-painting Aboriginal style. You can choose to get the inside gen on ceremonies whose roots are embedded in times long past, learn about hunting methods or share a star-canopied camp-fire experience with an Aboriginal host who will answer any question you’ve been dying to ask.
The Mossman Gorge – This area, part of the stunning Daintree National Park, has especial spiritual significance to its indigenous inhabitants and around Mossman Gorge you can take one of the ‘Dreamtime Walks’ led by a member of the Kuku Yalanji people
Carnavon Gorge National Park – For some of the finest examples of rock art found anywhere in the country head to the ‘Art Gallery’ in the Carnavon Gorge National Park of central Queensland. The ‘gallery’ of sandstone rock overhangs comprises more than 600 stencils and 1300 engravings. You can make your way round on a boardwalk punctuated with interpretation panels so you can garner a greater understanding of what you are looking at.
Get Your Fun Quota for Years to Come – The Gold Coast
If you’d like to take a break of a totally different kind from Queensland’s natural wonders make your way to the sub-tropical Gold Coast – the state’s centre of man-made fun and number one holiday resort playground. Despite its name the Gold Coast is actually a city and not an area which includes the famous suburb of Surfer’s Paradise where much of the Gold Coast’s attractions are clustered.
Often referred to as the theme park capital of Australia, your choices for holiday park fun are seemingly endless with such things as Dreamworld, Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World, Warner Bros. Movie World and many more which cover a wide range of themes. Other fun-filled activities to get stuck into include paint-ball battles, the virtual reality of 7D cinema, jet flights or sports car racing simulators.
Along with the found-everywhere theme parks the Gold Coast also heaps together such things as casinos, festivals, markets and night-life galore but there is also culture and a slice of the naturally lovely too if you head into the national parks of the hinterland – often referred to as ‘the green behind the gold’ You also happen to have a choice of more than 30 beaches, mostly shot through with a fair dose of long-standing surf culture and typically with shark preventative nets and life guards. From here if getting out on the water appeals there are options such as surf lessons, boat tours, whale watching and tall ship sailing.
One of the Gold Coast’s top tourist favourites is the Q1 building – only four other residential towers on Earth are taller. If you have a head for heights you can get a view of the spectacular kind from its 230m/755ft observation deck which just happens to be the Southern Hemisphere’s second highest public viewing point. Thrill-seekers can head even higher with the SkyPoint Climb which takes you up to 270m – there is no higher external building climb in Australia.
Do Something Different – A Few Other Worthy Mentions
Queensland’s jewels are so thick on the ground something is always going to get left out unless you write a very fat book. Queensland could almost be said to be the land of dreams come true because if you can imagine something you can quite probably do it here – from the simply wonderful to the incredibly unusual. We have made no mention of Queensland’s Outback where rodeos and country festivals are the norm or the Tamborine Mountain Glow Worm caves, the camel treks, the farm-stays which involve their guests in cattle musters, the delights of the Sunshine Coast or a thousand other things for which there is no room but are otherwise worthy of inclusion.
This last small selection is a few more things which we couldn’t bear to leave out of Queensland’s highlights list.
Undara Lava Tubes – This geological phenomenon can be located inside the Undara Volcanic National Park and although lava tubes can be found elsewhere in the world they are rarely as big or long as these ones. The lava flow which created these tubes existed 190,000 years ago and left behind caves and cathedral-like roofed formations.
Opal hunting – 97% of all opals anyone on the planet have been sourced from Australia so it is little wonder this stunning gem is the country’s national stone. Opals are one of nature’s most beautiful and variable gemstones, with multiple colours which shift in the light and there are even varieties where you will find every colour in the spectrum all at once. Head to Opals Down Under to view what is considered one of the country’s finest collections. You can also witness opal cutting demonstrations and even head out into a fossicking area where you can get hunting for your very own opal.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway – Hop aboard the Far North region’s Skyrail for a journey gliding across the rainforest canopy and views of waterfalls, lakes and mountains. There are several places you can stop along the way which include the lovely Barron Gorge and the Red Peak Station where you can head out on raised walkways to spot the area’s plants, flowers, birds and animals. One end of the Skyrail is the wonderful rainforest town of Kuranda – a spot with a distinctly hippie vibe which acts as a magnet for the artistically inclined.
Alternatively, the Kuranda Scenic Railway’s twenty-one miles offer a somewhat longer ride and the chance to take a trip in a timber-carriage heritage train. As you drink in the scenery of rainforest, waterfalls, mountains and gorges and travel through and across tunnels and bridges you can listen to the onboard commentary which details the railway’s remarkable story.
Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Site – Located within Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park can be found one of the world’s top ten fossil sites. UNESCO World Heritage-listed, the Riversleigh site has unearthed fossils of turtles, fish, snails, crocodiles, lizards, pythons, birds and many types of mammal dating back 25 million years and has revealed life forms so ancient they date back to an age before Australia broke away from other land masses. One part of this site – Riversleigh D Site – is accessible to the public.